Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Civil society's (and philanthropy's) digital roots

Today's assigned readings on digital civil society:
Cathy O'Neill on "ethical data science." She looks at the way that society's values, our assumptions and software code influence each other. They are mutualistic. And increasingly inseparable. Those who write the algorithms, those who use them, and those whose lives are affected by them - in other words, all of us - need to understand this, question it, and use data and tools to lend new insights, not reinforce existing power imbalances.
Neil Richards on the need to be able to regulate code - software code and those who create it - in many uses and forms in the digital age and his admonition that Apple's arguments about privacy are sound, while their arguments about free speech are problematic. Applying a free speech framework to software code will make it very difficult to monitor and regulate uses of code that discriminate or cause other harms. And, increasingly, we are going to recognize that our civil rights battles are being fought on digital turf.

All three articles focus on our need to assume software code is fundamental now - to how decisions get made in society, business, and policy making. Indeed, they argue that software code under girds how we act as private citizens, associate with one another, and express ourselves. These rights, in turn, support civil society as we know it. Those of us focused on improving nonprofit or foundation action, on using digital tools for social outcomes, on building globally influential digital tools for social good need to take these lessons to heart.

Philanthropy and civil society now rests on software code - it is digital civil society.

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